Adapt or Die

I had the opportunity this weekend to spend time with three missionary families.  Each of these families serve God in unique ways in different areas of the world.  Each faces their own specific challenges and have adapted their ministry model to best fit the situation they are in.

One serves an impoverished inner-city where drugs and poverty have led to a corrupt crime-riddled culture.  Divorce rates are very high and fathers have held very little accountability to their wives and children.  Their mission approach is to focus on supporting men and women in small groups.  By increasing accountability, they have seen a dramatic improvement in the families they minister to.

Another mission team servers an impoverished rural nation.  They face many of the same cultural challenges (drugs, teenage pregnancies and split families).  However, in their situation the families are often struggling to meet their minimum daily needs.  These missionaries focus on meeting their most basic needs first, then teaching them the gospel.

The third team works in a domestic mission area where the people they minister to have become very disenfranchised by the church.  They have a synical view of Christianity and the baggage that comes along with it.  They are having to show them what authentic Christianity is all about.

What do these missionaries all have in common?  They have come to the realization that mission work is not a one-size-fits-all solution.  Each have adapted their approach to meet the needs of the people they minister to.  By meeting their specific needs, they are opening many more doors than if they followed a textbook method of mission work.

The lesson for us is that whatever your mission – whether work, church or any other organization – you need to adapt to the needs of those you are trying to reach.  Whether that is customers or consituents, the old adage “adapt or die” rings true.

What a difference a year makes

Last year at this time I was at the beginning of a new stage of my career.  After an unexpected layoff and the first time not being employeed in nearly a quarter-century, I found myself in an unfamiliar place. 

I had spent my entire career working in IT shops of large corporations.  Three Fortune 500 companies had been my place of employment over 24 years.  Now I found myself in a company that was smaller than the departments I had been in.  Everything about this job was different.  The type of work, the type of company, the type of boss, the type of people, the type of office…. you name it, it was new to me.

I decided that I was going to go into it full bore, roll the dice, and just see what happened.  What I found was a job that has given me more fulfilment, more fun, and more excitement than anything I experienced in the corporate world. 

What has made this so much fun?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • The ability to trace my actions straight to the bottom line of the company.
  • The ability to make decisions without multiple levels of review, oversight and second-guessing.
  • The ability to get out of the box and be creative, harnassing the entrepreneur in each of us.
  • The ability to step out of your comfort zone and lead in various capacities (my role has expanded beyond IT into almost every aspect of the business).

Bottom line, I believe the fundamental thing that has made this job enjoyable is the ability to make a difference!  I’ve heard before that the number one thing employees want from their employers is appreciation.  No greater apprecation can be found than to believe you make a difference in an organization.

My encouragement for anyone going through an unexpected job change is to keep your eyes open.  You never know where your next opportunity will come from.  And no matter how different it may feel to you, it may end up leading to the most fun you’ve had (on the job) in a long time!   Good luck and God Bless!

Real leaders don’t take the easy way out

If you know me at all, you probably know that I am an avid supporter of Boy Scouts.  I’ve been part of the scouting movement almost my whole life.  I’m an Eagle Scout and the father of an Eagle Scout.  A couple of years ago, after serving as Scoutmaster of a troop I launched, I decided to step down from the day-to-day interaction of serving at the troop level and try to find another way to help scouts.  I ended up serving as our district’s advancement chairman.  In this role, I interact with scouts on a regular basis who are working on becoming Eagle Scouts themselves.  It’s a very rewarding role, but not one without it’s frustrations.

One thing that frustrates me to no end, is when a scout comes to me with an idea for an Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project, that is clearly not up to the standards we have set.  Let me explain.  The project (or ESLSP) is like the “capstone” course of your college program.  It’s that opportunity for a young man to take all the leadership skills he has developed over the years and apply them in a very real, meaningful way, by providing service to his community.  There is no set number of hours that he must fulfill, only that he must demonstrate leadership.  There are a number of parameters that further define what is allowed and not.

So, here’s where the frustration comes in.  On a rare occasion I’ll have a young man come in with an idea that’s just “good enough”.  On the surface it meets the criteria, but it doesn’t really do anything to challenge him.  It’s quite obvious when you talk to him that he’s just trying to get by.  In fact, I’ve had a few boys actually tell me that this is what they were doing.  (I guess you can say “at least their honest”.)

Unfortunately, what I see in these boys (albeit a small subset of the onesI work with), is something that’s all to common in society and the workplace today.  People look for just “good enough”.  Good enough to meet the customer requirements.  Good enough to pass the minimum standard.  Good enough to make the minimum return on investment.  Good enough to finish on time, but not ahead of time.

Do you see that as much as I do?  I’m sure you do.  It’s very frustrating whether it’s on the job or in other environment. 

Real leaders don’t do this.  Real leadership involves taking on a challenge and delivering “above and beyond”.  I’m not looking for leaders that can meet expectations.  I’m looking for leaders that will blow away expectations. 

The world is full of people willing to get by.  If you want to make a different – on the job, in your family, in your church or other organization, take the mantle of leadership and don’t look for the easy way out.  Challenge yourself and those around you to blow away expectations and deliver far more than what’s expected.  That’s what real leaders do.

Dealing with Fear? We all need a little love….

This is the third post regarding this topic.  Using the 1 Corinthians model of “what’s important in life”, I’ve learned to apply those concepts to dealing with the fears that life brings us. 

Fear is closely related to worry.  “Worry is a cycle of inefficient thoughts whirling around a center of fear.  Worry doesn’t empty tomorrow of sorrow, it empties today of its strength”, according to Corrie Ten Boom, Holocaust Survivor

When you are dealing with fear, such as that caused by the loss of a job, you have to recognize that one of the most important things you need is a loving, supportive group of family and friends. 

Trying to get through tough times on your own is the worst of all approaches.  It’s really common for those of us of the “male persuasion” to try to muscle up and take things on “like a man” and suffer through the tough times.  But the truth is, we all need support.

But beware, it’s difficult to build this support system when you are in the frays of dealing with a problem.  Therefore, it’s important to build this before you face the need.  And, since you never know when you are going to hit a rocky spot, you need to begin now! 

The key to building your support system is to build your personal and professional network.  Fortunately, there are many tools today to help you do this.  Social networking tools, like Linked In and Facebook, are great ways to help build a record of your network.  But remember that it doesn’t stop at the keyboard.  A true network is comprised of both in-person and virtual relationships.

Last year when I was out of work, I made it a personal goal to network with at least two people per week on an individual basis.  I also tried to attend at least two networking functions per week.  Add that to the online networking I was doing, and I was building a network that not only helped get me through the rough times, but many of whom are still part of my network today.

So, my advice to everyone is to cultivate and grow your personal network.  There’s no better time than today.  Then, when you need them, they’ll be there.

Dealing with Worry? Hope, Hope, Hurray!

In my last post I talked about the need to have faith to get through the challenges in life.  Worries and fear are inevitable, but how we deal with them is entirely up to us.

Using the 1 Corinthians 13 model, I am proposing an age-old solution for getting through the rough spots.  After you have faith, the next item in the recipe is hope.  In the Old Testament, Jeremiah was faced with some pretty tough times.  How did he survive?  He turned his eyes on God, he kept the faith, and he held fast to hope.  He wrote “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him”.

Hope is a wonderful tool.  Hope springs eternal, we say.  Hope is all about having an optimistic attitude.  You don’t have to be a Christian to have hope.  We can all hope for a better job, a better lifestyle, or for even that perfect someone to come along.

When we’re facing tough times, faith is the first thing you need.  You need to find something to believe in.  That’s your rock.  That’s what you hold on to.  But once you have that established, you need to turn your thoughts to the future.

Imagine a better place, a better way, a better job.  Having hope is all about picturing yourself where you want to be, not where you are.

If you do this, you’ll find yourself thinking about yourself in that situation.  In this way you are positioning yourself in your mind for that better situation.  It’s a great way to get your mindset right for that new job or opportunity. 

So, have a little faith, and then hope, hope hurray.

Dealing with Worry? You Gotta Have Faith!

Dealing with fear and worry is an every day issue. You can’t avoid them. But what you can do is learn how to deal with them and overcome the paralyzing effect they can have on you.

Let’s first define fear and worry. While they are almost used interchangeably, there is a difference. Fear is an automatic reaction to some event. A rabid dog or a deer jumping in front of your car should instigate fear. In this way, fear is not altogether bad. When used properly, it can protect you.

Worry, on the other hand, is a choice. Francis Chan defines worry in his book Crazy Love”, Worry implies that we don’t quite trust that God is big enough, powerful enough, or loving enough to take care of what’s happening in our lives.”

The Bible actually gives us a  model on how to deal with worry that will work in any situation.  1 Corinthians 13 is often referred to as the “Chapter of Love” and is popularly used in weddings.  The famous ending of the chapter is “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

The model for dealing with worry is to apply these three “most important things”, faith, hope & love.  In this post I’ll talk about the first of these, faith.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a great quote linking fear (doubts) with faith.  He said “The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.”  FDR recognized that you have to have faith in order to have the strength inside to move forward past the challenges of today.

First, let me explain that I’m not talking about a faith in God.  While that is something that is important to me, that’s not what this blog is about.  I am talking about applying some Biblical priniciples in a very practical way to help you in your daily life.

So how does faith help you with worry?  Simply put, faith is a form of confidence.  To overcome fear, you need to have faith – fatih in yourself, your friends, your employer, your abilities, your plan…. whoever you need to rely on to get you through the tough time.

Take for example the time last year when I was unemployed.  I needed to have faith in several things:

  • Myself – I had to believe that I was capable of finding a job, and performing the duties of it when I did.
  • My friends – I had to believe that my network of friends and associates would come through and help me find employment opportunities.
  • My wife and family – I had to believe that they would support me no matter what happened.
  • My strategy – I had to believe that the job search strategy I had empoyed would work.

Francis Chan had this to say about fear and faith.  “Fear never wrote a symphony or poem, negotiated a peace treaty, or cured a disease. Fear never pulled a family out of poverty or a county out of bigotry. Fear never saved a marriage or a business. Courage did that. Faith did that. People who refused to consult or cower to their timidities did that. But fear itself? Fear herds us into a prison and slams the doors.”

Call it faith, courage, confidence… pick your word, the meaning is the same.  If you are going to face your worry head on, you have to figure out who and what you have faith in.  Then use that confidence to help you through the tough times.

Next, I’ll talk about hope, and how it is a necessary component in dealing with fear.



Don’t Oversell or the Social Network Will Catch You

In the pre-social media web (pre web 2.0), it was easy for a business or organization to “oversell” themselves. I saw this from time-to-time. It’s easy to imagine how a business might do this. A website can be designed to make them seem very impressive. Testimonials from customers (whether real or otherwise) can make them sound fantastic. And product images can be air-brushed to look much better than the real item.

Another type of organization that I often saw overselling themselves was churches. Ironic, I guess, but it’s true. I know of a church that promoted its programs for young people, yet only had a handful of them in their actual membership. Once I was given several pictures to use in a collage photo on a website. One of the pictures was a handsome African-American man with a nice smile. I found out later that he was not a member of the church, but on the maintenance staff! In fact, the church did not have any African American members to speak of!!

The days of these types of tactics are hopefully on the decline. The advent of social media allows for a built-in correction mechanism on the web. Facebook, Twitter, and blogs allow people to share their impressions with their friends. There are also now sites like Angie’s list and Glassdoor that give unsolicited feedback on companies. Have you checked your company’s profile on Glassdoor? You should, it may give you some unexpected insight into your employee’s opinions.

One of the beauties of the social media phenomenon is that it brings a social conscience to the web. Hopefully, these tools are used for the overall public good, and helps us all find out what is truth, and what is not, in that big bad world of the Internet.

Two Sets of Threes

I’ve always been impressed with Coach John Wooden (even though I’m not a UCLA fan). His accomplishments, on and off the court, are indisputable.  I’m reading Pat William’s book about Coach Wooden and the principles that were passed from his father to the coach that shaped his life.

One of the early examples of his father’s wisdom given in the book is the “Two sets of threes”. These rules to live by are: “Never lie, never cheat, never steal”, and “Don’t whine, don’t complain and don’t make excuses”.

What a simple set of life principles you find here. In the first set of three, we are encouraged to keep our life straight. The best way to stay out of trouble is to avoid the “big three”…. We’ve heard them all our lives: to not lie, cheat or steal. This simple and solid advice that is eternal.

Most of us probably do a fairly good job of adhering to the first three.  But the latter three are a little harder for most of us. It seems like whining, complaining and making excuses are almost a rite of passage into the world today. We probably first think of teenagers when we think of these traits. But I believe we see them in people of all ages. After all, where do teenagers learn these traits? Adults, of course.

Coach Wooden had a hard life as a child, and his dad ran into some very unfortunate situations. But, he adhered to this code and never whined or complained. He took what life gave him, and without excuse, managed to raise a great family amid the challlenges he’s faced.

Undoubtedly, most of us have run up against whiners and complainers in our workplace. I don’t think there is a much more destructive force in an organization. As a manager, dealing with these negative traits will often zap me of my energy. If I’m not careful, dealing with complainers end up negating other good things going on, and negatively impact my own performance.

As a leader I believe we need to do three things:
1) Set an example by being positive, not making excuses, and not whining or complaining.
2) Do not allow a whiner to take away our energy, but to instead use our energy to turn them around.
3) Deal with negative personalitiies, even if it means removing them from the organization, before they poison those around them.

These are tough remedies, but if we are to truly lead organizations out of the cycle of negativity, we have to take the tough steps. 

Good luck, and don’t forget the two sets of threes.

Assess then Act

Some leaders take action on very little direction, while others seem to never have enough to make a decision.

Over the years I’ve noticed that one area that many leaders (including myself) can often improve on, is the ability to take action at the right time, based upon the right amount of information.  Leadership is often about setting a direction.  That direction comes from making a decision about what needs to be done.  Some leaders take action on very little direction, while others seem to never have enough to make a decision.

The problem with taking action on too little information is that you often make the wrong decision because you are not fully informed of the details.  Take for instance this one time when an executive I worked with wanted one of my team members to go on-site to address a customer’s problem.  The only issue was, no one had researched yet what the source of the problem was.  And since my guy could only address about 25% of the potential issues, I saw it as a 75% chance of a wasted trip.  (Note, this wasn’t a trip across town, but one that would involve airfare, overnight travel and at least two days of lost productivity at the office).  I put the brakes on sending the person out, and instead had a trained technician call and walk through the issues.  As it turned out, a local technician was able to swing by the customer’s location and fix the problem in a couple of hours.  The customer was much happier than if they had waited two days only to have the wrong person show up.   My company was better off because we saved thousands of dollars in travel expenses and lost productivity.

On the other hand, some people take entirely too long to make a decision.  This is often called “analysis paralysis”.  Over the years, I’ve often found myself involved with decisions that could never be made, because there was always that “one more” piece of information.   A similar issue is “next year’s version” of the software or product will be better.  These decisions (or the lack thereof) also cost the company money.  They cause lost productivity, lost opportunity costs and overall frustration among team members.  I’ve also noticed that the likelihood of these problems increase exponentially with the number of people involved in making the decision.  That’s one reason I love working in a smaller company.

Every leader must become comfortable with making decisions at the right time.  The time is not a measure of days, but a measure of knowing when you know enough.  Rudy Giuliani, in his book “Leadership” talks about the principle of “Reflect, Then Decide”.  He says that he never makes up his mind until he has to.   Recognizing when you “have to” is the key to good leadership.  One of the principles Mr. Giuliani illustrates is relentless preparation.  The more data you have, the more communications you have with your team, the quality of the people giving you advice, all impact your ability to come to a decision quickly. 

The bottom line is that no one can tell you exactly when to make any particular decision.  It’s a skill gained over time.  By learning what works and what doesn’t, it’s something that’s inside the gut of a good leader.  But it takes preparation, confidence and good information to make the right decision at the right time.